In our church, we do epiphany stars every January. We select stars with words on them out of a basket and reflect on them over the year, seeking to be open to what God might be teaching us. Usually there’s some sort of reversal: the meaning of the word originally seems straight forward, obvious, or even kind of narrow, but as the year goes by the star often becomes imbued with a deeper meaning or revelation.
My word for 2014 was righteousness and to be honest, it kind of repulsed me. When we think of a practical, secular application for righteousness, we’re left with something like self-righteousness, and the theological definition, while presumably positive, brings to mind zealots, judgment, and unattainable holy perfection.
It occurred to me recently that we all spend a lot of time reacting, rather senselessly to one another rather than living with intentions such as kindness, gentleness, and patience. So much pain and hatred that is spewed is not about us, but very much about the private suffering of others. The question then becomes, do we choose to spend our time arguing over the validity of that suffering or rather enter into it?
I think Jesus was different because he entered into the suffering of some of society’s seemingly most “deserved”–tax collectors, thieves, and prostitutes, to name a few. He did not judge their worth by the pain they may have inflicted upon others or the validity of their suffering, but rather, their need for him. This is a theme I was meditating on a bit a month ago–that it is in our neediness, in our weakness, that we are made holy.
I’m wondering if it is we who misunderstand righteousness to be an elevated, holy ground, whereas it is God who humbles us by making us righteous precisely in our weakness. I am trying to adopt an intention of kindness, gentleness, and patience in the new year, remaining aware of the illogic of deservedness and the wisdom of grace, the reality of suffering, and the opportunity to be made low and righteous and whole.